Contagion in contagious at the box office

GWYNETH PALTROW as Beth Emhoff in the thriller ÒCONTAGION,Ó a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Contagion is a scary movie.

No, it’s not zombies, vampires, ghouls or ghosts kind of scary, but a mess with your mind, a “this could really happen” type of scary.

The end-of-the-world, pandemic movie is nothing new; in fact, going in, I did not have high expectations at all. Still, I was curious to see Steven Soderbergh’s (Traffic, Oceans series) take on the subject with his all-star cast that includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law.

It all begins with Beth Emhoff (Paltrow), who has recently returned home to her husband and son in Minnesota after a business trip to Hong Kong. She thinks she has jet lag since she’s feeling under the weather with some flu-like symptoms. Before you can blink, Beth is convulsing on the floor and her husband Mitch (Damon) rushes her off to the hospital.

Sadly, doctors are unable to save her.

Beth’s young son soon suffers the same fate, as do an increasing number of people across the globe. It’s now time to call in the bigwigs at WHO (World Health Organization) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to find the cause of this virus and stop it from spreading. The audience knows Beth is to blame, as she’s the early focal point of the movie, and we see her engaging in a number of routine acts that spread this mysterious virus.

What we don’t know at the beginning is how Beth did contract the virus, but it is revealed in due time.

There are a number of subplots going on, which makes the movie feel uneven at times despite the impressive cast.

Fishburne plays Dr. Ellis Cheever, the CDC head who experiences some conflict when it comes to warning a loved one about the virus — that’s apparently a big no-no. Winslet is Dr. Erin Mears, the dedicated doctor who’s in the field collecting data. Cotillard is Dr. Leonora Orantes, part of the World Health Organization, and she heads to Asia to help find a cure.

I felt like something was lacking with her part of the story, as well as with Law, who plays a conspiracy-theorist blogger.

I found that the most interesting part of the story took place in Minnesota, where the first death occurred. I enjoyed seeing the after-effects of the quarantine, which were quite chilling, with looted stores, burglarized homes and just all-out lawlessness. Damon also does well as the grief-stricken husband, trying to protect his daughter (who was away in the beginning) from contracting the virus.

After seeing Contagion, I am reminded that the world is a real-life petri dish. An incurable virus that kills within days is within the realm of plausibility, as the movie points out that this has happened before with the Spanish flu, SARS and H1N1.

Contagion will have you fighting the urge to rest your hand on your face, or you’ll look warily at that co-worker who just coughed or sneezed before turning the door handle, making you wish you had a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Though its chock full of well-known actors and actresses, the unnamed disease is the real star of Contagion. ••

Movie Grade: B